Vino is vintage at Sandown
Vino Griego is a horse who never ceases to amaze and he took the measure of two well-thought-of rivals in the Future Stars Chase at Sandown.
For a long time written off as a lost and reluctant cause, it took him 18 attempts to even win over fences, but he was then transformed, taking a further Listed event at Ascot and finishing second at the Cheltenham Festival.
Old habits seemed to have been creeping in as Vino Griego (9-1) failed to complete on two more tries at Cheltenham earlier this season, but under a particularly cool ride from Jamie Moore, he rebuffed his outsider-of-three status to gallop seven lengths and the same away from 8-13 favourite Rolling Aces and Harry Topper (9-4).
It was one of several good omens on the card ahead of perhaps trainer Gary Moore's highest-profile runner to date, Sire De Grugy in this weekend's Tingle Creek Chase, as youngster Violet Dancer also won well.
"They call it the Future Stars, and that's nearly his 25th run over fences!" said Moore snr.
"They went a nice, even gallop. I tried him over three miles one day at Ascot and it looked like he was going to hack up but he didn't seem to get home.
"As he's got older maybe he has got slower, and looking at that you'd definitely say he got the three miles.
"I don't know what I am going to do with him now, I'll have to have a look, maybe there might be another of these somewhere."
Harry Topper, who had won the Charlie Hall at Wetherby, is adored by trainer Kim Bailey but he repeatedly made jumping errors.
"I knew coming here it would be good ground but I had to run him somewhere and I know now I can only run him where it is very soft," said Bailey.
Moore has a big plan for Violet Dancer (9-4) after his comfortable victory in the Headmasters Juvenile Hurdle.
"I'll take him to the Finale at Chepstow (December 28) and then maybe give him a break," he said.
"He still has strengthening up to do, but I'd like to see him go a better gallop."
Some very good horses like Inglis Drever, See More Business and Neptune Collonges won the Neptune Investment Management (Winter) Novices' Hurdle in their early days and Killala Quay put himself back on the right track this time around.
Beat That looked like landing the Grade Two after heading long-time leader Saint Roque, but Killala Quay (5-1) produced extra when switched to the near side and score by two and a half lengths.
Richard Johnson's mount lost his unbeaten hurdling record when only seventh in a handicap at Cheltenham last month and trainer Charlie Longsdon said: "Things didn't go right for him at Cheltenham, but we have always liked him.
"There are all sorts of options for him, I think the Challow will come too soon, but there is Cheltenham on New Year's Day, a race at Warwick and maybe even the final of this race (at the Festival).
"We've struggled for winners a bit recently, but that was our 50th this season."
Nick Williams has the promise of a holiday to keep his mind focussed on the progress of The Italian Yob (11-4 joint-favourite) and it was so far, so good after the Close Brothers Property Finance Novices' Limited Handicap Chase.
"The owners have promised me two weeks in Mustique if he ever wins the National," said Williams.
"I'd like to aim him for the novices' handicap chase at the Festival, and he could maybe have one more run somewhere in January."
Charlie Mann's Fine Parchment dominated the Coldunell Amateur Jockeys Association Amateur Riders' Handicap Chase and the trainer said: "I couldn't believe he was 10-1 as he's unbeaten this season. I'd like to aim him for the Kim Muir."
Johnson doubled up in the S Creative PR And Talent Management Novices' Handicap Hurdle on Lord Protector (5-1), whose connections received the prize from reality TV star Chantelle Houghton.